Posts Tagged ‘Herbert Marcuse’

Book on Utopias from the 17th Century to Today

January 20, 2021

Ruth Levitas, The Concept of Utopia (Oxford: Peter Lang Ltd 2011).

I’m sorry I haven’t posted anything for several days. Part of that is because the news doesn’t really inspire me. It’s not that it isn’t important, or that the Tories have stopped trying to strip working people of their rights and drive them further into poverty and degradation. Or that I’m unmoved by Trump trying to organise a coup to keep himself in the Oval Office like just about every other tin pot dictator throughout history. Or that Brexit isn’t threatening to destroy whatever remains of British industry and livelihoods, all for the benefit of the Tory superrich and investment bankers like Jacob Rees-Mogg, who have their money safely invested in firms right across the world. Or that I’m not outraged by even more people dying of Covid-19 every day, while the government has corruptly mismanaged their care by outsourcing vital medical supplies and their services to firms that are clearly incompetent to provide them, because those same firms are run by their chums. Ditto with the grossly inadequate food parcels, which are another vile example of Tory profiteering. It’s just that however disgusting and infuriating the news is, there is a certain sameness about it. Because all this is what the Tories have been doing for decades. It’s also partly because I can’t say anything more or better about these issues than has been already said by great bloggers like Mike, Zelo Street and the rest.

But I’ve also been kept busy reading some of the books I got for Christmas, like the above tome by Ruth Levitas, a sociology professor at Bristol Uni. The blurb for this runs

In this highly influential book, Ruth Levitas provides an excellent introduction to the meaning and importance of the concept of Utopia, and explores a wealth of material drawn from literature and social theory to illustrate its rich history and analytical versatility. Situating utopia within the dynamics of the modern imagination, she examines the ways in which it has been used by some of the leading thinkers of modernity: Marx, Engels, Karl Mannheim, Robert Owen, Georges Sorel, Ernst Bloch, William Morris and Herbert Marcuse. Utopia offers the most potent secular concept for imagining and producing a ‘better world’, and this classic text will be invaluable to students across a wide range of disciplines.

It has the following chapters

  1. Ideal Commonwealths: The Emerging Tradition
  2. Castles in the Air: Marx, Engels and Utopian Socialism
  3. Mobilising Myths: Utopia and Social Change in Georges Sorel and Karl Mannheim
  4. Utopian Hope: Ernst Bloch and Reclaiming the Future
  5. The Education of Desire: The Rediscovery of William Morris
  6. An American Dream: Herbert Marcuse and the Transformation of the Psyche
  7. A Hundred Flowers: Contemporary Utopian Studies
  8. Future Perfect: Retheorising Utopia.

I wanted to read the book because so many utopias have been socialist or socialistic, like the early 19th century thinkers Karl Marx described as utopian, Saint-Simon, Fourier and Robert Owen, and was interested in learning more about their ideas. In this sense, I’m slightly disappointed with the book. Although it tells you a little about the plans for the reformation of society, and the establishment of a perfect state or political system, the book’s not so much about these individual schemes as a more general discussion of the concept of utopia. What, exactly, is a utopia, and how has the concept been used, and changed and developed? Much of this debate has been within Marxism, beginning with the great thinker himself. He called his predecessors – Owen, Fourier and Owen ‘utopian’ because he didn’t believe their particular schemes were realistic. Indeed, he regarded them as unscientific, in contrast to his own theories. However, Marx did believe they had done a vital job in pointing out the failures of the capitalist system. Marxists themselves were split over the value of utopias. The dominant position rejected them, as it was pointless to try to describe the coming society before the revolution. Nevertheless, there were Marxists who believed in their value, as the description of a perfect future society served to inspire the workers with an ideal they could strive to achieve. This position has been obscured in favour of the view that Marx and his followers rejected them, and this book aims to restore their position in the history of Marxist thought. This idea of utopia as essentially inspirational received especial emphasis in the syndicalism of Georges Sorel. Syndicalism is a form of radical socialism in which the state and private industry are abolished and their functions carried out instead by the trade unions. Sorel himself was a French intellectual, who started out on the radical left, but move rightward until he ended up in extreme nationalist, royalist, anti-Semitic movements. His ideas were paradoxically influential not just in the Marxist socialism of the former Soviet Union, but also in Fascist Italy. Sorel doesn’t appear to have been particularly interested in the establishment of a real, syndicalist utopia. This was supposed to come after a general strike. In Sorel’s formulation of syndicalism, however, the general strike is just a myth to inspire the workers in their battle with the employers and capitalism, and he is more interested in the struggle than the workers’ final victory, if indeed that ever arrived.

The book also covers the debate over William Morris and his News from Nowhere. This describes an idyllic, anarchist, agrarian, pre-industrial society in which there are no leaders and everyone works happily performing all kinds of necessary work simply because they enjoy it and find it fulfilling following a workers’ revolution. Apart from criticisms of the book itself, there have also been debates over the depth of Morris’ own socialism. Morris was a member of one of the first British Marxist socialist parties, Hyndman’s Social Democratic Federation, and the founder of another, the Socialist League, after he split from them. Critics have queried whether he was ever really a Marxist or even a socialist. One view holds that he was simply a middle class artist and entrepreneur, but not a socialist. The other sees him as a socialist, but not a Marxist. Levitas contends instead that Morris very definitely was a Marxist.

When it comes to the 20th century, the book points out that utopias have fallen out of fashion, no doubt due to the horrors committed by totalitarian regimes, both Fascist and Communist, which have claimed to be ideal states. However, the critic Tom Moylan has argued that utopias have still been produced in the SF novels of Joanna Russ, Ursula le Guin, Marge Piercy and Samuel Delaney. He describes these as ‘critical utopias’, a new literary genre. The heroes of this literature is not the dominant White, heterosexual male, but characters who are off-centre, female, gay, non-White, and who act collectively rather than individually. The book criticises some earlier utopias, like News from Nowhere, for their exclusive focus on the male viewpoint, comparing them with the Land of Cockayne, the medieval fantasy that similarly presents a perfect world in which everything is seemingly ordered for men’s pleasure. In contrast to these are the feminist utopias of the above writers, which began in the late 19th century with Harriet Gilman’s Herland. It also discusses the value of satires like Samuel Butler’s Erewhon, and dystopias like Eugene Zamyatin’s We, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s 1984.

Levitas does not, however, consider utopianism to be merely confined to the left. She also considers Thatcherism a form of utopianism, discussing the late Roger Scruton’s Conservative Essays and citing Patrick Wright’s On Living in an Old Country. This last argued that the Conservative promotion of heritage was being used to reinforce old hierarchies in a markedly racist way. Some members of society were thus delineated as truly members of the nation, while others were excluded.

The book was first published in 1990, just before or when Communism was falling. It shows it’s age by discussing the issue whether the terrible state of the Soviet Union served to deter people dreaming and trying to create perfect, socialist societies. She argues that it doesn’t, only that the forms of this societies are different from the Marxist-Leninism of the USSR. This is a fair assessment. In Kim Stanley Robinson’s trilogy of books about the future colonisation of Mars, Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars, the colonists not only succeed in terraforming the planet, but also create socialist society in which authority is as decentralised as possible, women are fully equal and patriarchy has been overthrown and businesses run by their workers as cooperatives. At the same time, those wishing to return to a more primitive way of life have formed hunter-gatherer tribes, which are nevertheless also conversant with contemporary technology.

Further on, although the Fall of Communism has been claimed to have discredited not just Marxism but also socialism, recent history has shown the opposite is true. After forty years of Thatcherism, an increasing number of people are sick and tired of it, its economic failures, the glaring inequalities of wealth, the grinding poverty and degradation it is creating. This is why the Conservative establishment, including the Blairites in the Labour party, were so keen to smear Jeremy Corbyn as an anti-Semite, a Communist and Trotskyite, or whatever else they could throw at him. He gave working people hope, and as Servalan, the grim leader of the Terran Federation said on the Beeb’s classic SF show, Blake’s Seven, ‘Hope is very dangerous’. A proper socialist society continues to inspire women and men to dream and work towards a better world, and it is to stop this that the Blairites contrived to get Corbyn’s Labour to lose two elections and have him replaced by Keir Starmer, a neo-liberal vacuity who increasingly has nothing to say to Johnson and his team of crooks.

Back to the book, its discussion of the nature of utopia therefore tends to be rather abstract and theoretical as it attempts to describe the concept and the way it has changed and been used. I didn’t find this really particularly interesting, although there are nevertheless many valuable insights here. I would instead have been far more interested in learning more about the particular ideas, plans and descriptions of a new, perfect, or at least far better, society of the many thinkers, philosophers and authors mentioned.

Vox Political Launches New Book Against the Anti-Semitism Smears

September 28, 2016

Mike yesterday announced the publication of his latest book, The Livingstone Presumption. This is written to refute the anti-Semitism smears against Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters in the Labour party, along with other MPs, councillors and activists such as Naz Shah and Ken Livingstone. It was the allegation against Ken Livingstone that the book’s title alludes to. It’s available now as an e-book, and will shortly appear in print.

I’ve no doubt it provides an excellent deconstruction of the real reasons for these slanders. Of course, I’m Mike’s brother, so naturally I support it’s publication. But more than that, I’m confident that Mike, as an excellent journalist, has got the facts absolutely right, and shows the real reason for these disgraceful smears. As I’ve pointed out, these have been made against decent people, many of whom have dedicated their lives and political careers to fighting anti-Semitism and racism, and which include Jews, and people of Jewish heritage.

Michael Segalov on the Left against Real Nazis

Mike announced the book was out in an article he wrote yesterday commenting on a piece by Michael Segalov in an article in the Independent. Segalov stated in the Independent that Corbyn’s supporters weren’t anti-Semitic. Far from it. In his experience, they were the people, who were most active combating the real, and openly Nazi, anti-Semitic far right. Mike quotes him writing

For years now I’ve travelled across the UK to report from far-right, fascist and neo-Nazi rallies, and the counter-demonstrations that take place alongside. I’ve seen the real threat that faces Jews in the country, those who profess hatred for Jews and our religion, who wear swastikas as badges of honour, who’ll salute like a Nazi in front of your face… It’s the left, and Corbyn’s supporters, who’ve put their bodies on the line time and time again to protect us from these racist organisations.

That’s why these cries of anti-Semitism make a mockery of a real and present danger. Corbyn’s commitment to fighting discrimination and prejudice has been well documented for decades. His supporters are those who’ve stood alongside him. Accusing these people now of peddling prejudice is nothing but political point-scoring at its worst. It undermines real hatred, and waters down the impact of calling out anti-Semitism when it rears its ugly head.

Unfortunately, Mr Segalov still believes that Ms Shah and Red Ken are anti-Semites, but states that they are not supporters of Corbyn. Ken’s a very long-standing member of the party, while Shah supported Yvette Cooper against Corbyn in the Labour elections.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/09/27/new-book-highlights-the-real-reasons-for-anti-semitism-allegations-in-the-labour-party/

Naz Shah and Livingstone Not Anti-Semites

Segalov’s wrong about Shah and Red Ken. Mike’s pointed out that Naz Shah has good relations with her local synagogue, something I’m very sure she wouldn’t enjoy if she were any kind of anti-Semite. As for Red Ken, I’ve pointed out time and again the stance he has always taken against racism, whether against Blacks, Jews, the Irish or whoever, to the point where he and the GLC in the 1980s became ridiculed and reviled for it. The Leninist Newt-Fancier devoted several chapters in his 1987 book, Livingstone’s Labour not just to arguing that the Labour party should pay far more attention to empowering the Black community and combatting racism against them, but also to denouncing the recruitment of real Nazis by the secret state after the Second World War. These had been given sanctuary in Britain, as the authorities believed they could be useful in the struggle against Communism. Those recruited included people, who had participated in the most disgusting crimes perpetrated against the Jews by the Third Reich, including pogroms and the Holocaust.

The Zionists Relationship with the Nazis vs. Jewish German Patriots

Red Ken is not an anti-Semite. But he is a critic of Israel, a committed the terrible offence of being absolutely factually correct when he stated that Hitler had supported Zionism. He and the Nazis had, briefly, at the beginning of the regime, as a tactic for removing Jews from the Reich. This is documented history. As is the Zionists’ own cynical, utilitarian attitude to the butchery of the Jewish people by the Nazis. They were in favour of it, as they believed this would encourage more Jews to emigrate to Israel. They bitterly resented Jewish German patriots, like the Jewish Servicemens’ League, which not only fought ardently against the persecution of the Jews in Germany, but was also an acutely uncomfortable reminder that Jews had loyally served their country in the carnage of the First World War, and were no more treacherous than any other German. It’s another documented historical fact that German Jews had responded with a wave of patriotism in the 19th century when the restrictions against them serving in the armed forces were lifted. They volunteered along with their gentile comrades for service in the Great War. It’s one of the supreme, tragic ironies that Hitler’s captain, the commanding officer, who recommended him for the Iron Cross, was Jewish.

The British Left against Fascism

But Mr Segalov is entirely correct when he states that it’s the left, and Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters, who will put their bodies on the line to fight to protect Jews and others from the real racists. It was my experience growing up in the 1980s that the people, who joined Rock Against Racism, marched against the BNP, and fought in gang battles in the street against them, were exactly the same types Tom Watson sneered at when he described Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters as ‘hippy Trotskyite rabble’. Or whatever it was. It was the same type of people, who joined CND and joined groups and wore the T-shirts demanding ‘Justice for Nicaragua’, when that country was being ravaged by the Contras. It was the same type of people that published leaflets and flyers pointing out Thatcher’s support for the Far Right, and real Fascists like Pinochet and lesser known butchers in Latin America.

The Far Right and Nazism

Unfortunately, Mr Segalov is not exaggerating when he says that the real Nazis will openly make the Nazi salute in front of you, and who do wear swastikas as badges of honour. Way back in the 1960s and ’70s the National Front indeed strutted about in Nazi uniform. Andrew Brons, one of the fixtures of the Far Right for all these decades, was arrested in the 1970s, according to Private Eye, for screaming Nazi slogans at frightened elderly ladies in Birmingham. He was then apprehended by a policeman, who had a very Asian surname. According to the Eye, Brons patronised him with a lecture about how he was allowed to do all this because of the fine British tradition of freedom of speech. Obviously, he ignored the hypocrisy of using that argument when, as a Nazi, he clearly didn’t believe in it. He then further insulted said copper by telling him that he wouldn’t understand such elevated concepts as he was racially inferior. This is clearly not the kind of thing to say to someone, who has the power to arrest you. I have the feeling that Brons spent the rest of the conversation trying to explain himself down at the police station.

For a moment in the 1990s and 2000s the BNP dropped the costumes and tried to present themselves as a mainstream party, oriented towards community politics. They were still racist and anti-Semitic, but they tried to disguise it. Now that the BNP has all but collapsed, parts of the Far Right in this country have gone back to open Nazism. The most blatant of these groups is National Action, formerly the youth wing of one of the Far Right parties. If memory serves me right, it was either the BNP or National Front. Michelle, one of the commenters on this blog, sent a link in her comment to an earlier piece I wrote, to a discussion of the Far Right in one of the left-wing political meet up groups. This was a talk, followed by a question-and-answer session, presented by Matthew Feldman, a university lecturer specialising in the study of Fascism. Dr Feldman illustrated his lecture with numerous videos, one of which was truly chilling. It showed National Action at one of their demos quite openly shouting anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi nonsense. They were spouting the old conspiracist canard about the Jews using Blacks to destroy White racial purity in order to further the Marxist agenda of overthrowing White civilisation. Herbert Marcuse and the Frankfurt school were also thrown in as example of ‘cultural Marxism’.

Marxism Not Anti-White Racism

It’s all nonsense. Marx never wrote anything about destroying White civilisation. He and his collaborator, Engels, were interested solely in examining the class nature of history and modern capitalism as part of their programme of liberating the working class. They also had some disgusting racist ideas themselves. Marx hated the Slavonic peoples, as he believed that their economic and social ‘backwardness’, as he saw it, would make them a dangerous counterrevolutionary force, and looked forward to the day when they, and other similar ‘backwards’ peoples, like the Celts and Basques, would die out. He also sneered at his German rival, Lassalles, as ‘the Jewish n*gger’.

No Anti-White Jewish Conspiracy

There has never been any kind of Jewish conspiracy to destroy White civilisation. This is just a vile product of the diseased imagination of the Nazis, and their successors in the American right-wing conspiracy culture. Jews were part of the campaign to gain civil rights for Blacks in America, as many Jews had strong connections with Black communities through their jobs, such as teachers in Black majority schools and neighbourhoods.

Gramsci and Cultural Hegemony

As for ‘cultural Marxism’ and the Frankfurt school, this is also a confusion of them and the ideas of cultural hegemony by Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci was an Italian Communist, who attempted to explain the persistence of capitalism and its support amongst the working class, by suggesting that this was due to the basis of modern culture in the ideology and values of upper and middle classes. This was so pervasive, that it was automatically seen as natural by the workers, despite the fact that it directly went against their interests. Marx himself had already argued much of this in his theory of ‘false consciousness’. Gramsci turned Marxist tactics on its head by arguing that what was needed to liberate the workers was to challenge capitalist culture, rather than the traditional Marxist tactic of changing capitalist culture by attacking its basis in the economic structure of society.

The Frankfurt School and the Origins of Fascism in Mass Culture

There’s a section on the Frankfurt School by Jean Seaton in her chapter ‘The Sociology of the Mass Media’ in the book on the British media which she co-authored with James Curran, Power Without Responsibility: The Press and Broadcasting in Britain (London: Routledge 1988) pp. 221-7. She points out that the Frankfurt School were left-wing German emigres, who had been forced to leave Germany through the rise of the Nazis. They believed that Fascism had its origins in modern mass culture, and applied this analysis to modern American society. Rather than being left-wing ideologues dedicated to the destruction of traditional, White, Christian society, she points out that actually their views weren’t that far from those of British critics of modern mass society, whose views were based in a far more traditional, British, non-Marxist set of cultural values.

Cultural Marxism: What It’s Really About

As for the term ‘cultural Marxism’, this is also the boneheaded product of more confused thinking. It seems to be a garbled notion of the distinction many academic Marxists drew in the 1980s between what was ‘Marxist’ and ‘Marxian’ in order to keep their jobs. Thatcher passed a law making it illegal for Marxists to hold posts at the universities. They responded by denying that they were Marxists, but held ‘Marxian’ cultural views. It was a fine, and actually rather artificial distinction, but it nevertheless allowed them to keep their jobs. However, this has been taken over by the radical right, who have thrown it into their scrambled notion of Gramsci’s hegemony.

National Action also make their Nazism very clear in their costume and conduct. As well as shouting Nazi ideology in the streets, they also openly wear Nazi-style clothes and regalia. In the video Dr Feldman showed as part of his presentation, they did indeed openly make the Nazi salute, shouting ‘Sieg heil!’ as they did so. National Action aren’t the only openly Nazi group on the Far Right. There’s even a small, National Socialist party, whose members include the infamous racist responsible for killing and mutilating innocent people in a series of three nail bomb attacks on Black, Asian and Gay pubs and cafes in London. His victims included a bride and an unborn child. The members of this minuscule party do turn up and parade around in Nazi uniforms and insignia.

The Left Not Anti-Semitic, But Anti-Racist

While Mr Segalov is wrong about Ken Livingstone and Naz Shah being anti-Semites, he is certainly right about the openly Nazi character of part of the Far Right, and about the way the Left, including supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, have attempted to right them, including physical assault. Matthew Collins in his book, Hate, about his own career in the BNP and NF, states at one point that the Communist Party used to provide its members with self-defence training so that they could attack any Nazis they encountered on building sites. Mr Segalov is right to point out how wrong and damaging it is in the struggle against real racism and anti-Semitism to malign Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters so. Mike book also puts the record straight on this, and about the smears against Naz Shah and Livingstone.